Meet the neurosurgeon, taekwondo champion nicknamed ‘Made in Rwanda’

Meet the neurosurgeon, taekwondo champion nicknamed ‘Made in Rwanda’

Written by Jade Natacha Iriza at The New Times Rwanda

It is true that a significant trend of people rebelling against society’s indirect imposition of white-collar jobs as the standard of success has evolved in recent times.

Many people are more inclined to pursue their passions— or jobs—in other fields, particularly in the creative industry. However, becoming a doctor has always been Dr. David Hakizimana’s childhood ambition. It was primarily to accomplish his own father’s unfulfilled dream of becoming one.

Dr Hakizimana’s father was expelled from school in 1973, due to discrimination based on ethnicity, and was unable to complete his education. This is something Hakizimana believed to be unfair and vowed to do his studies, enrol in medical school, and pursue a career as a doctor for himself and his father.

Presently, Hakizimana practices as a neurosurgeon, specialising in the treatment of disorders that affect the brain, the spinal cord, and nerves. He is also a senior lecturer at the University of Rwanda, in the department of surgery and human anatomy.

When he looks back at his journey, the road has not been an entirely smooth one.

Life as a student

Dr Hakizimana maintained focus on his objective despite the difficulties associated with being a medical student, such as lengthy hours spent studying and participating in training rounds at the hospital, as well as the nearly non-existent social life.

“First of all, I consider myself privileged that we did not face discrimination in school during my time. I had to take whatever action was necessary because I had no other excuse. The effects of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi were being felt by the nation, but the University of Rwanda was open to new students, so I joined,” said the 39-year-old.

Asked about the ‘stressful’ situations medical students have to withstand, he said: “Of course, it requires a great deal of discipline and time.”

“But the beauty is in going through it all so you can practice later. And while you may not connect with other acquaintances whose life dynamics are different from yours, you make friends who are going through the same thing. As a doctor, you make a lot of friends with your patients as well as their relatives.”

Dr Hakizimana went to primary school in 1990, and attended secondary school from 1996 to 2002 at College St André in Nyamirambo. Later, he continued his medical studies at the University of Rwanda, where he specialised as a neurosurgeon. This earned him the moniker ‘Made in Rwanda’, from his peers.

“Many of my peers would go abroad to continue their studies or live there after finishing school. So, because I did everything here and even continued to work in the same country, I got the nickname,” he explained, with a smile.

Presently, Dr Hakizimana is one of Rwanda’s only five neurosurgeons. He works at King Faisal Hospital as a consultant neurosurgeon.

Taekwondo master

Hakizimana believes that staying healthy helps one get through medical school and the working conditions in general. He recommends that people should participate in sports or any other extracurricular activities they like.

“I had been practicing Karate since 1998, then shifted to Taekwon-Do in 2003,” he says.

While Karate is a martial art developed in the Ryukyu Kingdom of Japan, Taekwon-Do is a Korean form of martial arts involving punching and kicking techniques, with emphasis on head-height kicks, spinning jump kicks, and fast kicking techniques.

Hakizimana pursued his interest in Taekwon-Do all the way through college.

He currently holds a fourth Dan black belt, a rank reserved for those deemed ‘masters’ in this martial art. He won several tournaments successively, earning him the title of national champion for seven years. He is also the president of the Rwanda Taekwon-Do Federation.

“Aside from work, I take great pride in my tireless and intense Taekwon-Do sparring training. It has helped me in remaining fit and healthy through body development and mental awareness.”

He also believes that seeking support from family and friends is an important way to care for one’s mental health.

“The good thing about our culture is that we still have close-knit families. So receiving emotional support, love, and affection from our loved ones is highly beneficial,” he said, adding that making time for family and bonding with his son keeps him happy.

The secret is to be intentional about how one plans for their time.

“Whatever your passion is, you should indeed work on it, and it may not be easy. All you really need is the ability to recognize and exhaust opportunities whilst also remaining physically and mentally healthy.”


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